Preschools for the Penan
The Penan are taking the initiative themselves in organising preschools. These preschools are enabling them to pass their knowledge, culture and language on to their children and to prepare the children for the Malaysian primary school, which is foreign to them. The Bruno Manser Fund is providing teaching materials, financing teachers and supporting the construction of the school buildings.
Tough learning conditions
Most of the teachers at the primary schools have been drafted in from the outside and belong to other ethnic groups. They thus have no knowledge of the Penan culture or language. In the state primary schools, the Penan children learn nothing about their own roots, instead of which the tendency is for them to suffer discrimination on account of their ethnic affiliation. Furthermore, the schools are often so far away that the only time the children spend at home is their holidays, so there is little time available for passing traditional knowledge on to the younger generation. This is causing the gradual loss of indigenous Penan culture.
When the Penan children first go to school, they find themselves confronted with a Malaysian culture that is foreign to them and based on other values. What makes matters worse is that they do not speak the Malay language. The Penan children feel that school is overtaxing for them from the very beginning and are convinced that they are bound to continue under-performing for ever. These are the socio-cultural reasons why the Penan achieve lower marks on average than the other schoolchildren and why there is a higher rate of early school dropouts amongst them.
Objectives of the preschools
The Penan, in cooperation with the Bruno Manser Fund, have set up the preschools to give their children a start in life with a greater immersion in their own culture and to prepare them better to meet the demands of primary school. To date, schools have been built in two villages and together they have capacity for thirty children.
The preschools are pursuing primarily the following objectives:
1. Maintenance and furtherance of traditional Penan knowledge
The Penan teachers tell the children about important aspects of their culture. This gives the children a keener awareness of the value of Penan knowledge and traditions. In this way, the children learn to read and write in their own language. The intention is for traditional knowledge to be passed on from one generation to the next. This gives the younger Penan the necessary appreciation of their own culture and ought to safeguard the children against losing their identity in a school environment that is shaped by the dominant Malaysian culture.
2. Preparation of the children for state primary school
In order to prepare the Penan children for the tuition given in the state primary schools, their self-confidence is reinforced through initial learning successes and they are acclimatised to school rules in a setting familiar to them. For this purpose, it is particularly important for the children to learn in an environment that respects their own culture.
The teachers also instruct them in the fundamental skills of reading and writing. Furthermore, the children are familiarised with the basics of mathematics and the Malay language to make the transition to primary school easier for them.
3. Development of the children as individuals
A further important point is furthering the personal development of each individual child. Social skills and creativity are built up through games and artistic activities like painting and singing. They are also told about the fundamental principles of health and hygiene.